Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 2: Program Activities for Healthy Development

2.2 Supervision and Discipline

2.2.0 Methods of Supervision of Children

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 10/09/2018. 

Caregivers/teachers should provide active and positive supervision of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children by sight and hearing at all times, including when children are resting or sleeping, eating, being diapered, or using the bathroom (as age appropriate) and when children are outdoors.


Active supervision requires focused attention and intentional observation of children at all times. Caregivers/teachers position themselves so that they can observe all of the children: watching, counting, and listening at all times. During transitions, caregivers/teachers account for all children with name-to-face recognition by visually identifying each child. They also use their knowledge of each child’s development and abilities to anticipate what they will do, then get involved and redirect them when necessary. This constant vigilance helps children learn safely.


All children in out-of-home care must be directly supervised at all times. The following strategies allow children to explore their environments safely. (1,2)

  1. Set Up the Environment

     Caregivers/teachers set up the environment so that they can supervise children and be accessible at all times. When activities are grouped together and furniture is at waist height or shorter, adults are always able to see and hear children. Small spaces are kept clutter-free and big spaces are set up so that children have clear play spaces that caregivers/teachers can observe.

  2. Position Staff

    Caregivers/teachers carefully plan where they will position themselves in the environment to prevent children from harm. They place themselves so that they can see and hear all of the children in their care. They make sure there are always clear paths to where children are playing, sleeping, and eating so they can react quickly when necessary. Caregivers/teachers stay close to children who may need additional support. Their location helps them provide support, if necessary.

  3. Scan and Count

    Caregivers/teachers are always able to account for the children in their care. They continuously scan the entire environment to know where everyone is and what they are doing. They count the children frequently. This is especially important during transitions when children are moving from one location to another.

  4. Listen

    Specific sounds or the absence of them may signify reason for concern. Caregivers/teachers who are listening closely to children immediately identify signs of potential danger. Programs that think systemically implement additional strategies to safeguard children. For example, bells added to doors help alert adults when a child leaves or enters the room.

  5. Anticipate Children's Behavior

    Caregivers/teachers use what they know about each child’s individual interests and skills to predict what he/she will do. They create challenges that children are ready for and support them in succeeding. But, they also recognize when children might wander, get upset, or take a dangerous risk. Information from the daily health check (e.g., illness, allergies, lack of sleep or food, etc.) informs adults’ observations and helps them anticipate children’s behavior. Caregivers/teachers who know what to expect are better able to protect children from harm.

    6. Engage and Redirect

Caregivers/teachers use what they know about each child’s individual needs and development to offer support. They wait until children are unable to problem-solve on their own to get involved. They may offer different levels of assistance or redirection depending on each individual child’s needs.


Caregivers/teachers should always be on the same floor and in the same room as the children. If toilets are not on the same floor as the child care area or within sight or hearing of a caregiver/teacher, an adult should accompany children younger than 5 years to and from the toilet area. Younger children who request privacy and have shown the capability to use toilet facilities properly should be given permission to use separate and private toilet facilities. School-aged children may use toilet facilities without direct visual observation but must remain within hearing range in case children need assistance and/or to prevent unsafe behavior.

Program spaces should be designed with visibility that allows constant, unobtrusive adult supervision and allow for children to have alone time or quiet play in small groups. To protect children from maltreatment, including sexual abuse, the environment layout should limit situations in which an adult or older child can be alone with a child without another adult present (1,2).


Children are going to be more active in the outdoor learning/play environment and need more supervision rather than less time outside. Playground supervisors need to be designated and trained to supervise children in all outdoor play areas. Staff supervision of the playground should incorporate strategic watching all the children within a specific territory and not engaging in prolonged dialog with any one child or group of children (or other staff). Other adults not designated to supervise may facilitate outdoor learning/play activities and engage in conversations with children about their exploration and discoveries. Caregivers/teachers should make an effort to maintain close proximity to children who are developing new motor skills and may need additional support to ensure the safety of the children.

Caregivers/teachers should repeatedly count children, record the count, ensure accuracy, and be able to verbally state how many children are in care at all times. Caregivers/teachers should record the count on an attendance sheet or on a pocket card, along with notations of any children joining or leaving the group. An accurate count is required at all times. Caregivers/teachers should participate in a counting routine that encourages duplicate counts to verify the attendance record to ensure constant supervision and safety of all children in care.

School-aged children should be permitted to participate in activities off the premises with appropriate adult supervision and with written approval by a parent/guardian. If parents/guardians give written permission for the school-aged child to participate in off-premises activities, the facility would no longer be responsible for the child during the off-premises activity. The facility would not need to provide staff for the off-premises activity.

Developmentally appropriate child to staff ratios should be met during all hours of operation, including indoor and outdoor play and field trips. Additionally, all safety precautions for specific areas and equipment should be followed. No center-based facility or large family child care home should operate with fewer than 2 staff members if more than 6 children are in care, even if the group otherwise meets the child to staff ratio. Although centers often downsize the number of staff for early arrival and late departure times, another adult should be present to help in the event of an emergency.  See Related Standards below for further information regarding ratios.

Planning must include advance assignments, monitoring, and contingency plans to maintain appropriate staffing. During times when children are typically being dropped off and picked up, the number of children present can vary. There should be a plan in place to monitor and address unanticipated changes, allowing for caregivers/teachers to receive additional help
without leaving the area. Sufficient staff must be maintained to evacuate children safely in case of emergency. Compliance with proper child to staff ratios should be measured by structured observation, counting caregivers/teachers and children in each group at varied times of the day, and reviewing written policies.


Supervision is directly tied to safety and the prevention of injury and maintaining quality child care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. Parents/guardians depend on caregivers/teachers to supervise their children. To be available for supervision or rescue in an emergency, an adult must be able to hear and see the children. With proper supervision and in the event of an emergency, supervising adults can quickly and efficiently remove children from any potential harm.

The importance of supervision is to protect children not only from physical injury (3) but also from harm that can occur from topics discussed by children or by teasing/bullying/inappropriate behavior. It is the responsibility of caregivers/teachers to monitor what children are talking about and intervene when necessary.

Children like to test their skills and abilities, which is encouraged, as it is developmentally appropriate behavior. This is particularly noticeable around playground equipment. Playgrounds, when compared with indoor play areas, pose a higher risk when it comes to injuries in children (4).  Even if the highest safety standards for playground layout, design, and surfacing are met, serious injuries can happen if children are left unsupervised. Adults who are involved and aware of children’s behavior are in the best position to safeguard their well-being.

Regular counting (or use of active supervision) will reduce opportunities for a child to become separated from the group, especially during transitions between locations.

These practices encourage responsive interactions and understanding each child’s strengths and challenges while providing active supervision in infant, toddler, preschool, and school-age environments.



Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Ratios for Small Family Child Care Homes Ratios for Large Family Child Care Homes and Centers Ratios for Facilities Serving Children with Special Health Care Needs and Disabilities Ratios and Supervision During Transportation Ratios and Supervision for Swimming, Wading, and Water Play Conduct of Daily Health Check Recognizing and Reporting Suspected Child Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Facility Layout to Reduce Risk of Child Abuse and Neglect Medication Administration Location of Toilets and Privacy Issues
  1. National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness. Active Supervision. Published February 5th 2018. Accessed August 28, 2018.

  2. National Association for the Education of Young Children: Program Administrator Guide to Evaluating Child Supervision Practices.
    academy/Supervision%20Resource_0.pdf. 2016. Accessed August 28, 2018.

  3. United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Cooperative Extension. Creating safe and appropriate diapering, toileting, and hand washing areas in child care. Published October 2, 2015. Accessed June 25, 2018

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Child abuse and neglect. Web site. Updated April 13, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018

  5. Schwebel, D. Internet-based training to improve preschool playground safety: Evaluation of the Stamp-in-Safety Programme. The Health Education Journal. 74(1), 37. Published January 20, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2018.

  6. National Safety Council. Landing lightly: playgrounds don’t have to hurt. Accessed June 25, 2018


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 10/09/2018.